While the pandemic forced many businesses to fold, for some entrepreneurs the last year has been a time of opportunity and growth. At the start of lockdown last March partners Jake Jones and James Talbot started baking and delivering bread from their home in Witney, Oxfordshire. A year on they are running a successful high street bakery store Pobi, with plans to open several more and set up their own bakery school.
Talbot, 25, previously worked as an account manager in retail sales, while Jones, also 25, was in hospitality, where he’d worked for seven years. Last March Jones was made redundant.
“It was a huge shock, but at the same time it got us thinking of what else Jake could do,” says Talbot. “He’d always dreamed of opening a shop in his hometown of Barry in Wales, and he’d always wanted to bake. So we set up a website, registered with the relevant local authorities, and almost overnight Jake started baking from home. We sold locally, to friends, family, and neighbors, and via social media platforms, and pretty quickly we started to build a following.”
Within three months they were delivering further afield, and were also attracting some wholesale customers. “They told us that when lockdown was over, they’d like to use our products in their kitchens too,” says Talbot. “It was only a small part of what we were doing, but it provided us with a good additional revenue stream.”
By late summer demand for their produce was increasing, and they were outgrowing their home kitchen, so they began scouting for a local shop, and secured a startup loan of £20,000 from Virgin StartUp to fund the investment.
Talbot says: “The funding was crucial to the next stage of business growth, but just as valuable was the support they provided, including help with our business plans and cash flow, and access to a business mentor. One important thing we learned is that your business plan goes out of date almost as soon as you’ve written it, especially in these uncertain times.”
In October they opened their shop, Pobi – which is Welsh for bake – on their local high street, and from there things began to take off. By December, when lockdown had eased and people were able to go shopping, turnover was double that of the earlier lockdown months.
Talbot says: “We were contacted by a couple of large wholesale companies whose orders would require us to significantly increase production. We were already baking to capacity in a 200-square-foot space in the shop, so we spoke to our flour suppliers, who’d been very supportive from the start, and they leased us some of their storage facility which we converted into our present-day production kitchen.”
In January Talbot quit his job to join the business full time, and admits that he found the transition more difficult than expected. He says: “I genuinely thought I’d go from working 40 hours a week to working 20 and having some down time. In reality it is more like 70 hours, because you have to do everything, from cleaning the floors to business planning and meeting with potential partners.”
They recently hired their first employees, including a full-time retail manager, and are planning the next stages of retail growth. Talbot says: “Witney will always be our flagship store because of the support that we’ve had here and because we feel part of the community, but we would like to open satellite shops in Barry and Bath.”
The wholesale side of the business is also expanding, but what the founders are really excited about are their plans to create something for the community and open a Pobi Bakery School within their production facilities, where they can offer bakery masterclasses to the local community, including schools.
“We want to share what we’ve learned over the past year,” says Talbot. “Our production facility unit has a huge amount of headspace that could be transformed into a mezzanine, interactive space for a bakery school, where students can learn and watch our team at work in the kitchen. Our ultimate goal is to become accredited and offer formal certification training courses to a wider audience.”
All of this will require significant funding, and the founders are already in talks with potential finance partners. As Pobi marks its first anniversary Talbot reflects on how far the business has come, especially during a year when so many others have struggled to survive. Turnover for the current financial year is on track to hit £135,000, with a forecast of £250,000 for the following year.
He says: “When we started out last March we couldn’t have envisaged where the business would be today. Everything happened so quickly, and the last six months have been especially challenging. One thing that you don’t anticipate is how little time you get to spend with each other away from the business, but we are loving the independence and wouldn’t change anything. We’ve had incredible support from our local community and Virgin StartUp and that more than anything has helped us to get to where we are today.”